Starting at 22, Britons have talent

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The Independent Online

Britons have got talent – it just doesn’t emerge until they are 22, says a report published today.

On average, they cited 22 as the age when they found their niche in life and were able to use their talents to gain a lucrative career.

Nearly half of those surveyed felt they were regarded as average or poor students while they were at school.

Of these, 15 per cent said they never got the chance to discover their talent in the classroom because their teachers had written them off as failures.

The adults in the survey are not alone, says the report from Edge – an education foundation dedicated to improving the quality of vocational education.

Many celebrities and famous people – such as Home Secretary Alan Johnson, comedian Paul Merton, actress Sarah Jessica Parker and celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver – left school as failures.

And, if the figures are a true reflection across the country as a whole, it would add up to 2.8 million adults feeling they had been branded failures at school.

The research comes on the eve of the premier of a new documentary, We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For, which is the brainchild of Oscar-winning film director David Puttnam.

Lord Puttnam, who has been an education adviser to the Labour government, said the film was meant as “a wake-up call”.

“If our schools are to keep pace with the needs of a very rapidly changing world, the ways in which many of our young people learn must be transformed – most particularly by harnessing the incredible power of technology,” he said.

The film highlights how many young people in today education system are still being allowed to “slip through the cracks” – struggling through a school system which, it claims, has not changed in the way it delivers education since Victorian times.

One of those who takes part in the film, Stephen Harflett, of Swindon, said:”Lessons weren’t really catering for me."

“I just couldn’t do the reading and the writing and spent most of my time looking out of the window."

“I came out of school with just one CSE to show for it.”

It was not until he was 22 that Stephen, now aged 46, took the life-changing decision to seek further qualifications and obtained a City and Guilds certificate which enabled him to work as a gas engineer that he managed to develop his talent.

He is now a company director of his own firm and – a few years ago – was earning enough money to take time off to build his own home.

Andy Powell, chief executive of Edge, said: “It’s demoralising for young people to spend years in an education system which does not value their abilities.

“Many recover and find success while others never do.

“It’s simply not good enough that young people are falling through the cracks and labelled as a ‘poor’ or ‘average’ student because their potential is not being fulfilled through traditional academic teaching.”

School failures who blossomed later in life include:

Alan Johnson: The Home Secretary was orphaned at the age of 12 and brought up by his older sister. He left school at 15 and became a postman.

Damien Hirst: His art teacher pleaded for him to be allowed to enter his school sixth-form which he left with an E grade in art and was subsequently rejected by Leeds College of art and Design. A subsequent application proved successful.

Jamie Oliver: The TV chef is dyslexic and did not excel at school. He left with no qualifications and then went on to catering school.

John Major: Left school at 16 with three O-levels – subsequently gaining three more through a correspondence course. Asked as prime minister what he had got at school, he answered he “couldn’t remember”.

Paul Merton: The TV comic failed his 11-plus and famously received an unclassified grade for his metalwork at CSE.

Sarah Jessica Parker: The US actress said of her time at school: “I failed in school in lots of ways, academically but also personally. If I could fix those things I would. They do linger and I do recall them and I wish I could fix them.”

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